I believe that the most prominent of the many motifs in Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth” was blood. Blood appears in nearly every scene, if not physically then at least as an idea. It is like a presence lurking in the background at every moment, waiting to make its grand appearance. In the opening scene of Macbeth, blood as well as grime covers the captain, who has just gotten back from one of the bloodiest battles of Scotland to that date. King Duncan even goes so far as to ask, “What bloody man is that? Macbeth has just killed and beheaded the leader of the opposing army; in the beginning, blood is a symbol of honor and victory. This, however, is all about to change as soon as Macbeth meets the witches. The witches tell Macbeth he shall receive the title Thane of Cawdor, and will then become King of Scotland. Immediately after, they tell Banquo he shall sire a line of kings. Macbeth may have been a bit skeptical at first, but when he was given the title Thane of Cawdor his misgivings about the witches’ prophecy fled.
When he told Lady Macbeth about the witches prophecy, she realized that their only choice was to kill the king and seize power for themselves. Before she reveals the plan to Macbeth she prays to the gods, asking them to make thick her blood, as thicker blood was thought of as blood that had been poisoned while thinner blood was pure, innocent, and wholesome. She conveys plan to Macbeth and though she was the one who pressed and persuaded him to get it done, he was the one to wield the blade and strike the fatal blow.
He finishes the murder and returns to Lady Macbeth, still carrying the dagger with his hands and arms covered in blood. He barely notices here, and quietly says, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/ Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine/ Making the green one red. ” In contrast, when Lady Macbeth returns from replacing the blades at the scene of the crime and smearing the grooms with blood, she exclaims, “A little water clears us of this deed. ” At this point, blood has turned from a symbol of honor, valor, and conquest, to a symbol of guilt and a poisoned mind as
Duncan had put his trust and admiration into Macbeth. Soon after the death of Duncan, Banquo begins to suspect Macbeth. Macbeth realizes this and becomes more and more paranoid until finally, he decides to kill Banquo without any input from Lady Macbeth who had been the one to really push the first murder. He has taken matters into his own hands, and Banquo dies. That night, before a banquet Macbeth has arranged for the nobles of his kingdom begins, the murderers that Macbeth hired to kill his friend return. Macbeth exclaims, “There’s blood on thy face! to which the murderer replies, “Tis Banquo’s then. ” Macbeth gleefully retorts, ” ’Tis better thee without than he within,” meaning that if Banquo’s blood is on the face of the murderer, it cannot be flowing through Banquo’s veins, and he is dead. The dialogue continues and Macbeth learns that Banquo was left in a ditch with “Twenty trenched gashes on his head. ” Later in the same scene, at the banquet, just as Macbeth is talking about how he wishes Banquo was here to keep up appearances, Banquo’s ghost appears to Macbeth alone with his hair matted with drying blood.
After the ghost has left, Macbeth tells himself, “Blood hathe been shed ere now, I’ the olden time/ Ere human statute purged the gentle weal,” meaning that mean have killed each other since long before there were laws against it. He is telling himself that to kill and shed blood as merely a part of nature and impossible to be avoided, there is nothing one can do about it and there is nothing unholy about it either in an attempt to rationalize Banquo’s death.
Eventually, the combined guilt of all the murders drives any remaining vestige of sanity from the already unstable mind of Lady Macbeth. Her lady in waiting observes her sleepwalking, and informs a doctor arrives in time to witness it as well. She walks randomly, bearing a candle before her to drive away the dark. She rubs her hands together, attempting to wash away blood that is not there, attempting to wash away the guilt. “Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? She had previously imagined that once Duncan was dead, she and her husband would rule with no trouble or worry, that the event would simply vanish into the past and Duncan would be forgotten. Now though, her guilt ridden mind brings to the surface all that has been troubling her and she realizes that the memory will never go away, the stains of blood can never fully be washed away from their minds.
“Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. This line not only reveals the level of Lady Macbeth’s guilt, but also refers back to her husband’s comment earlier in the play where he said that no seas of Neptune could wash away the blood from his hands. There is ample evidence to show that Blood is the most prevalent reoccurring theme in the play Macbeth. It drives the play forward, as Macbeth and those he interacts with struggle for power and revenge. The guilt that the blood symbolizes lead to Macbeth’s hallucinations as well as the (implied) suicide of Lady Macbeth. There were many themes overall, but I believe blood was the most prominent.